For two semesters I have taken American Sign Language with Dr. Emmett Jones in order to fulfill my World Language Perspective requirement. I was surprised when I found the language harder to learn than I initially expected. Many ASL signs look nearly identical and have to be deciphered based on the context of each sentence. Translating was one of the most challenging parts for me because ASL has a different grammatical structure than English and it’s difficult to rearrange the words to make sense in my mind without losing a sign in the process— which can completely alter the meaning of the sentence. The most surprising thing I learned in this course was that there are three different versions of Sign Language: American Sign Language (ASL), Pidgin Signed English (PSE), and Signed Exact English (SEE). While ASL is the most widely used and accepted version among the Deaf community, PSE is the one that is most commonly taught in schools to children. I was confused when I learned this and wondered why the most accepted version among people who actually used the language wouldn’t be taught. However, after a lot of research I found that PSE is used more like a continuum between ASL and English, serving as a bridge for the deaf and hearing.
The biggest thing that I took away from this course is that a hearing person does not need to know perfect ASL in order to have relationships with people of the Deaf and hard of hearing community. My ASL is nowhere near perfect but on the two occasions where I went to Dr. Jones’ workshop for families with deaf children, I found that I was able to effectively communicate with the people there because they knew and appreciated that I was seeking to learn their language. I once thought ASL was only used among the deaf community but I have begun to notice it among many groups of people such as children, individuals with verbal disabilities, and most prevalently a little girl in my family who has Cerebral Palsy. I have used the knowledge from both semesters of this course and applied it to my life in teaching my niece basic signs so that she can understand her cousin with CP and communicate with others before her verbal language skills develop. Both semesters of this course allowed me a new perspective on the Deaf community and how far empathy and the desire to be educated can go.